Until now serious damage to the spinal chord meant irreversible paralysis. However, this may no longer be the case. A team of scientists from UC Irvine, UC San Diego and Harvard have discovered that by blocking an enzyme called PTEN (phosphatase and tensin homolog) damaged spinal chord cells in rodents were made to regenerate naturally. The result was robust regeneration.
The procedure tricks nature into thinking the damaged spinal chord is in an incomplete and appropriately developing state (i.e., in a state where PTEN is not yet in abundance). It results in a natural regeneration of the nerve cells. It was first shown to have been successful in 2008 when it enabled nerve cell regeneration between the eye and the brain in mice.
The results of the study have been published on-line in Nature Neuroscience
. Further tests as to how much motor function may be restored are in process.